Nebraska is facing a shortage of behavioral and mental health providers, especially in rural counties.
The federal government classifies 88 of the 93 counties in the state as Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas.
The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) is trying to grow the workforce, but Dr. Howard Liu, BHECN director, says it takes time.
“We can’t raise people up in one or two years. Sometimes it takes five years. In the case of a psychiatrist, it can take a dozen years to get one from high school into practice,” Lui tells Nebraska Radio Network.
BHECN’s goal is to retain 50 percent of students in Nebraska and Dr. Lui says progress is being made.
“One of the groups that we believe needs some work are these licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors, because addiction is such an important area,” he points out. “We do have a couple of new grants that will address that, and we’re also working closely with the state to think about how to increase those, particularly in rural areas.”
While telehealth is helping reach rural patients, Dr. Liu says more professionals are needed.
“It’s all about mentorship and really having deliberate programs to expose students to mentors in psychiatry and to interactions with consumers to tell their stories,” he says. “It’s really been, I think, a powerful thing.”
Some examples of BHECN initiatives include:
- BHECN established the Nebraska Counseling Collaborative, which obtained a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to fund 21 interns from counseling graduate programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Wayne State College, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Chadron State College to train and work in underserved rural and urban areas.
- In collaboration with the Munroe-Meyer Institute Psychology Department, BHECN places counseling and psychology interns into 24 rural primary care clinics across the state that have behavioral health services integrated into patients’ “medical homes.” Recently, additional federal funding was secured to expand training to psychiatric nurse practitioners, doctoral level psychologists, and master’s degree therapists over the next four years.
- BHECN funds psychiatry resident rural rotations in North Platte, Hastings and Kearney.
- BHECN launched a new program to train master’s level counseling students at Chadron State College to become alcohol and drug counselors, addressing the gaps in the Panhandle for addiction treatment services.
- A recent HRSA grant award also will fund non-traditional students to train as addiction counselors and community health workers in rural areas of Nebraska and will serve as a career ladder to future careers in behavioral health.
- The University of Nebraska at Kearney was established as a “rural hub” by BHECN to guide many rural training and workforce development ideas with the help of an advisory board consisting of 19 members spanning central and western Nebraska.
- BHECN is exploring the possibility of creating a rural provider network to provide support and training for rural providers who may experience isolation from the behavioral health workforce.
- BHECN offers ongoing training opportunities via webinars, summits, workshops, seminars, and online modules, available to trainees and professionals across the state.
BHECN is housed in the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
AUDIO: Mike Loizzo reports [:44]